Sometimes called “downers,” these drugs come in multicolored tablets and capsules or in liquid form. Some drugs in this category, such as Zyprexa, Seroquel and Haldol, are known as “major tranquilizers” or “antipsychotics,” as they are supposed to reduce the symptoms of mental illness. Depressants such as Xanax, Klonopin, Halcion and Librium are often referred to as “benzos” (short for benzodiazepines1). Other depressants, such as Amytal, Numbutal and Seconal, are classed as barbiturates—drugs that are used as sedatives and sleeping pills. Some of the well-known brand and street names can be found here.
depressants: short-term effects
- Slow brain function
- Slowed pulse and breathing
- Lowered blood pressure
- Poor concentration
- Slurred speech
- Visual disturbances
- Dilated pupils
- Disorientation, lack of coordination
- Difficulty or inability to urinate
Higher doses can cause impairment of memory, judgment and coordination, irritability, paranoia,3 and suicidal thoughts. Some people experience the opposite of the intended effect, such as agitation or aggression.
Using sedatives (drugs used to calm or soothe) and tranquilizers with other substances, particularly alcohol, can slow breathing and the heart rate and even lead to death.
depressants: long-term effects
Tolerance to many depressants can develop rapidly, with larger doses needed to achieve the same effect. The user, trying to reach the same high, may raise the dose to a level that results in coma or death by overdose.
Long-term use of depressants can produce depression, chronic fatigue, breathing difficulties, sexual problems and sleep problems. As a dependency on the drug increases, cravings, anxiety or panic are common if the user is unable to get more.
Withdrawal symptoms include insomnia, weakness and nausea. For continual and high-dose users, agitation, high body temperature, delirium, hallucinations and convulsions can occur. Unlike withdrawal from most drugs, withdrawal from depressants can be life-threatening.
These drugs can also increase the risk of high blood sugar, diabetes, and weight gain (instances of up to 100 pounds have been reported).
In a study conducted by USA Today, based on Food and Drug Administration data over a four-year period, antipsychotics (a type of depressant) were the prime suspects in forty-five deaths caused by heart problems, choking, liver failure and suicide.
“I have overdosed twice off of prescription pills (Zyprexa) and had a close friend die of the same drug....There is no worse feeling than knowing that your friend is dead because you gave him pills you knew relatively little about.” —Linda